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Review: Unsheathing the Sword of Wisdom (By Julio Savi, Published by George Ronald, Oxford, 2011, 208 pages)
It almost seems a paradox that in our days, when everything is measured, weighed, thought, carefully and repeatedly examined and judged in the light of economic and financial principles, an author as Dr Julio Savi ventures to analyze the problems of our planet and its inhabitants adopting an approach that does not privilege visible and tangible parameters, which may be measured in terms of profit, and crosses the threshold of a space into which scientists, engineers, economists, politicians and environmentalists take great care not to enter, a space in which the subtlest and intangible qualities and rights of human beings imposingly emerge.
It took many millions of years for nature to give to human beings the shape they have to day, erect and beautiful, millions of years of deep esthetic changes of their whole body. And it took millennia for their intelligence and rights to become so irrepressible as they are today: millennia of clashes among cultures, ways of life, philosophies on knowledge and the meaning of life; millennia to gain freedom; millennia to earn dignity; millennia to develop their individual capacity of self-determination and self-management. But a few instants are enough to destroy all this precious heritage, when a man carelessly infringes the fundamental rights of human life.
The time in which we live is, undoubtedly, an age of transition from a life that has been lived in a mental attitude of separation, to a life that must be lived in the quest for integration: separations among races, beliefs, understandings, styles of life, customs, arts, and sciences, and integration towards a planet which, since it should become one country, also should adjust its inhabitants to a new vision, a vision that may be defined as integrated, or, as they use to say, a vision of unity in diversity, unity in universal rights and diversity in opinions and styles of life.
In a scientific perspective, all agree that no issue can today be discussed and handled in the light of just one of the branches of science. This approach, which in the past has been the normal way of doing things, has created contradictions, troubles and infringements, and thus should be replaced by a new approach, known as “interdisciplinarity and integration.” In a word, each issue of our world should be seen today in the perspective and with the contribution of the whole human knowledge.
And yet, other steps forward are required. We must give due consideration to the importance of the intangible resources of human beings, that is, their inner qualities and skills, their spiritual gems, their rights. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said in the second half of the nineteenth century: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.” These gems comprise the intellectual and spiritual qualities of human beings. Only when the importance of these gems will be duly recognized, humankind will attain the age of its maturity, an age in which a due recognition of the physical, scientific, economic and spiritual aspects of human life will pave the way for an integrated vision of human development and human rights.
An important contribution to this new integrated vision is offered by the book written by Dr Savi, Unsheathing the Sword of Wisdom, an essay that studies a complex and crucial aspect in human history, the issue of human rights: the right to life, to peace and tranquility; the right to freedom, brotherhood and equality; the right to use the time of one’s life to creating and taking care of one’s happiness; the right to think and to believe. All these rights are not always respected. On the contrary, they are continually trampled and violated.
We live in a very difficult age in human history, an age in which human beings, who lived for millennia separated, within an unbelievably short time, have suddenly come in touch with one another. And this sudden contact has created clashes and conflicts among different styles of life, among unequal rights, among outwardly dissimilar religious beliefs, among different customs. These clashes and conflicts, in their turn, have created envies, divisions, retaliations, struggles, partition walls, a renewed spirit of nationalism and sectarianism, and violence, where some peoples hope to impose their style of thought, their faith, rights, and vision of life upon the others, and other peoples have preferred to cut themselves off from the others and lead an isolated life, in a spirit of revenge and in an attitude of ongoing violations.
This spirit and this attitude have resulted in a distorted development of collective human thought, whereby the majority of the peoples of the world is somberly and increasingly sinking into the abyss of fear, starvation and misfortune. Sure, also past ages have witnessed similar events. However, science, technology and economy have produced today more and more refined weapons and systems of power, which enable human beings to violate the dignity of other human beings in great numbers and through great enterprises.
Julio Savi analyzes this topic starting from the history of past ages and initially focuses his attention on several issues concerning terrorism: the escalation of violence that characterizes it; the various aspects of local, national and international terrorism; the causal factors of political, religious and sectarian terrorism; the motivations of fundamentalism in all its shades; the idealistic aspects of the most violent aspects of terrorism. He quotes facts and events; he deeply studies human group behaviors and philosophies, which gave birth to these heinous activities.
In his analysis of political, religious and economical extremism, Savi explores the internal and external factors that have contributed to give rise to violent, epochal events, which have lowered the standard of human life and dignity, with their millions of innocent human beings carelessly killed. These events have obliged the politicians of the world to try to find solutions, that later proved useless and vane. They have brought together the best technicians and soldiers, the greatest scientists, political scientists, and economists, bishops and cardinals in a vain effort to stop them. They have obliged millions of people to run away, in their fear of losing their lives, tears in their eyes and despair in their faces, for having seen buildings, towers, and bridges in fire and in ruin, and buses, trains, and airplanes, crowded by friends, relatives, children, and babies, cruelly destroyed. They have swept away firefighters, and other common people, who while doing their work have been suddenly swept away and carried into a hell of fire, death, and despair.
Most of the pages of Unsheathing the Sword of Wisdom offer proposals, ideas, constructive and promising concepts, which may help humankind to come out form this endless spiral of violence, whereby millions of people are obliged to suffer, despite themselves, harassments of all kinds, ranging from the deprivation of their freedom of thought, to the denial of their freedom of existing.
Dr Savi quotes many concepts and principles drawn from the Bahá’í writings and from the statements of the Bahá’í International Community, a non-governmental organization that both encompasses and represents the world-wide membership of the Bahá’í Faith. He analyzes the motivations which underlie events characterized by violence and violations and offers solutions, whose main element is a new definition of human beings. Human nature is essentially spiritual. And thus education should take care of the deepest aspects of human interiority, the human soul. New definitions should be given of the individual, of the purpose of human life, of the role of religions and of the individual, definitions that should be taken into consideration while defining the concept of collective and social development.
Dr Savi introduces the Bahá’í concept of the oneness of humankind and of the promotion of harmony between the various peoples of the world, as an instrument for a balanced social development. His suggestions are quite different from the ideas of all those people who, in the course of recent history, have preferred to deify the State, or subordinate all the rest of humankind to a nation, a race or a privileged class or to an intolerant religious philosophy, suppressing any discussion, any exchange of ideas, any dialogue. As a consequence of their choices, today millions of starving people are callously abandoned to the financial speculations of a small minority, that has imposed a fictitious market system, which is clearly damaging the living conditions of most human beings, while allowing small sectors to live such a wealthy life that neither the Caesars nor the pharaohs enjoyed in past ages.
Dr Savi explains that human happiness, safety and wellbeing, social cohesion and economic justice are not mere by-products of material success. They arise from a complex and dynamic interaction between the satisfaction of material and social needs and the spiritual fulfillment of individuals.
If material progress will be associated with fundamental spiritual aspirations and if individuals will be encouraged to adopt universal values that may inspire them to rise above their petty personal interest, the people of the world will come to translate lofty ideals and noble principles into constructive deeds that will both promote their wellbeing and improve their communities. And thus the concept that the market, economy, profit, the accumulation of goods, the sectorialization of the satisfaction of needs and of human happiness are at the core of development is overturned. In reality the human being is at the core of development.
Recognizing the human right to development is tantamount to recognizing the ancient aspiration to fulfill the uniqueness of each individual. It is a formal recognition of the fact that human beings should be offered the opportunity to develop all those qualities that will enable them to fulfill their uniqueness. All human beings should be given the opportunity to nourish that aspect of their nature that goes beyond race, religion, language and gender, and to focus on their essence. It is, in the final analysis, a call to spirituality, since a human being is by definition an essentially spiritual creature.
The spiritual nature of human beings is the foundation of such concepts as the abolition of all prejudices, equality between men and women, the divine origin of human beings, the common origin of religions, social justice, the need to re-define the universality of human rights, concepts that are important and essential factors for the elimination of the causes of terrorism, violence and conflict.
“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization,” and “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” are two fundamental Bahá’í quotations, if we want to acquire a deeper understanding of the issue of human rights. All human beings, with no exception, should contribute to development; all human beings, with no exception, should be citizens of the world and consider the whole planet as their country.
It is in the concepts of universal education, of an intellectual and spiritual education, of an education of the true inner nature of human beings, that Savi identifies the remedy that will assist humankind to heal its serious illness. Universal education does not mean that the masses should receive theories and ideas as the soil receives a teeming rain. It rather implies that all the inhabitants of our planet should be enabled to be passionately involved in an individual quest after truth, a truth that may bring them to true knowledge and inner self-consciousness, and help them to abandon all tribal and religious divisions, partisanship, party politics, fundamentalism, prejudice, controversial sectarianism, which are the cause of those explosions of violence that deny all universal human rights. This truth should rather help them to turn their interest towards building a world order, in which all human beings may be seen as “the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden,” each and all of them engaged in building a common home, blessed by the social, political, economic and spiritual unity of the whole planet. And this unity will guarantee that the fundamental human rights will be built and respected, because this unity will be established on the strong foundations of spiritual values.
If development must follow this course, a re-definition of the present development indices is required. These indices should be broadened to include intangible and spiritual indices which may measure, beside the economic and social wellbeing, also human happiness, social justice, the elimination of prejudice, the respect for the right to freedom and to life, the spiritual and moral education of our children, who will be responsible for the management of our world in the near future.
Therefore education should not only teach intellectual knowledge, numbers, formulas, skills, it should also develop inner potentialities and shared values, as for example trustworthiness, humbleness, trust, determination, spontaneous and selfless service to one’s neighbor. It should lead people to develop a feeling of their inner being and inborn dignity, to understand that their lives can contribute to change things in their society, so that they may become motivated agents of change at the service of a continuously changing world.
At the same time, education should also teach all learners a number of fundamental capacities that are indispensable for the learners to give a practical expression to their willingness to participate to the overall development of humankind. These capacities comprise the capacity of discovering and apply truth in each field of human endeavor, of making right moral choices, of promoting creative models rich in values, of efficiently participating in the construction of a better world. And this educational model will be effective and efficient only when the teachers will adopt a behavior consistent with universal values and will become examples of selflessness: exterior religiosity and abundance of words are no more acceptable. Today people need deeds of high integrity supported by purity of motives.
Only if we will embrace this vision, we may hope to replace struggle and conflict with dialogue, bombs and attempts with consultation, strife and terrorism with unity in diversity. Will we be able to do this? Shall we try? Shall we make an attempt? Do we have a hope? Do we really want to give the opportunity to future generations, our children, of living on a planet in which conflict and strife may be forgotten on behalf of a peaceful society, united and respectful of the fundamental human rights? These are courageous questions and Julio Savi, with his essay Unsheathing the Sword of Wisdom, has begun to answer them.
Unsheathing the Sword of Wisdom is an audacious, countertrend text, an experiment, a homage rich in innovative cues, a project that encourages its readers to think of this new perspective. Perhaps they will want to participate to the rise of a new vision, a true knowledge, which may contribute to improve the living conditions in our planet.